Give it here! No, that’s mine! But he can’t have it! Sound familiar?
That’s because when it comes to sharing, toddlers find it quite difficult. This is a normal part of your toddler’s developmental process. When he refuses to share his favourite toy, he isn’t really being selfish – he’s just acting his age. Knowing and understanding this is the first step in helping your child grow up to be a generous person.
By their very natures, toddlers are egocentric. This means that they assume everyone else sees, hears and feels things exactly as they do – that they are pretty much the centre of the universe. To be able to share, children need to have empathy, which is the ability to see things from another’s point of view. In order to do this, your child has to understand that you are a different person to him, with different needs and emotions. Children are seldom capable of true empathy until the age of six years. However, sharing is a learned activity and mastering it takes time, so introduce your child to the value of sharing now and then build on this as he gets older.
TOP TIPS TO TEACH YOUR TODDLER TO SHARE
SHOW HIM HOW TO SHARE
Model what you would like to see your children do. You are your greatest teaching tool, so take every opportunity to show your child how to share. Offer him a bite of your meal or a chance to help you make lunch. As you do, use the word “share” to describe your behaviour by saying something like, “I’m eating a really good sandwich, and I’d love to share it with you.” When someone asks to borrow something of yours make this a teachable moment too.
If your child has trouble sharing his toys and a friend is coming over, ask the friend’s parent to bring some of his own toys with them. Children love things that are novel, and soon your child will realise that he must share his own toys in order to be able to play with his friend’s toys. When friends visit, toddlers will naturally protect what is theirs, so it’s best to put favourite toys away and have a “share mat” on the floor with toys that can be enjoyed by everyone.
GIVE YOUR CHILD OPPORTUNITIES TO SHARE
Create moments where you can encourage sharing. You can do this by sharing simple chores, such as cleaning up after dinner. Toddlers don’t need big chores, but simply carrying a plate to the sink teaches your child about sharing duties and helping others. Be encouraging and give praise: “Thank you so much for carrying your plate to the kitchen, you were such a big help to Mom!” You can also encourage sharing by giving to others less fortunate. Get your child to pick out old clothes or toys and give it to children in need. Explain why we need to share and reinforce this as way to be considerate of others.
Help your child explore the emotions and thoughts of others by talking about them. For instance, if a friend is feeling sad you can explain to your child how his friend might be feeling: “Tina seemed upset when you would not let her play with your car. I wonder how we could make her feel better.” Help him put is own feelings into words too: “You seem sad because Peter took your car away.” This builds on the foundation for empathy that will serve your child well in relationships as he gets older.
ACKNOWLEDGE HIS EFFORTS
We spend so much time reminding our children how to behave that it’s easy to forget to offer recognition when they do something well. Look out for moments when your child does share with someone else (even if you had to remind him) and acknowledge these. Let him know how happy you are to see him being kind to his friend and point out that he’s made that other child happy too. Little by little, he will take in the positive reinforcement and feel good about repeating those actions.
WHEN PROBLEMS ARISE
If your toddler just refuses to share, resist the urge to punish him. Punishment, especially at this developmental level, will not encourage sharing. Rather it will breed resentment. You can let your little one know you’re disappointed when he doesn’t share, but that’s it – don’t make a big deal out of it. Some of these struggles should be ignored, so give him the space work this out with other children. To encourage sharing, use positive reinforcement rather than admonishment. Keep in mind that it’s actually okay for your child to hold back certain items. As he matures, he’ll learn that sharing with friends is more fun than keeping things to himself.
When talking to your child about sharing, be calm and kind. Encourage empathy, understand how difficult it can be for him to have to share, and facilitate ideas to make things right. “I saw how upset you were when Sally wanted your book. It can be very difficult to share. I wonder if Sally also feels sad now because you would not share with her. How could we make this better?” Remember, practice makes perfect. Just being around other little ones and interacting during play can be a lesson in sharing, so be sure that your child is used to being around other children his age as early as possible.